It has not been firmly established how respiration adapts to long-term CO2 exposure in man. We have therefore exposed five healthy human subjects to 2.8 kPa CO2 in the inspired gas for about 70 h in a chamber with controlled atmospheric conditions at ambient pressure PCO2 and pH were determined in arterial or arterialized venous blood drawn before, during and after the exposure. One subject was studied twice. We found that PaCO2 increased acutely and then increased further within the 5- to 24-h period of exposure to 2.8 kPa CO2. No consistent change was observed during the following 2 days. At the end of exposure the PaCO2 was 0.5 kPa above the pre-exposure level. When the breathing gas was switched back to room air, PaCO2 promptly returned to pre-exposure values. The secondary rise in PaCO2 within the first day would correspond to a decrease in alveolar ventilation of about 10% assuming constant production and elimination of CO2. Arterial pH remained slightly below the pre-exposure level during the entire exposure period. A slight renal compensation resulting in an increase in base excess of about 1 mmol l-1 may have occurred in the middle part of the exposure period. We conclude that a significant, but moderate, respiratory adaptation takes place during the first day of exposure to an increased inspired load of CO2.